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Know the West

Drought + Population Growth = Disaster

  Regarding Matt Jenkins’ otherwise excellent article, "A crisis brews on the Colorado": To talk about water without discussion of population growth is a bit like planning a wedding reception without knowing how many guests will be there — doomed to failure (HCN, 1/24/05: A crisis brews on the Colorado).

I am a firm believer in George Santayana’s admonition that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." In a recent article in The Denver Post about the Fremont and other prehistoric cultures in the Southwest, an archaeologist was quoted as saying "something big," or catastrophic, hit the region about 1,000 years ago. Some combination of burgeoning population, severe drought and perhaps other circumstances brought major cultural upheaval and death.

Severe drought may have triggered Santa Fe’s bloody Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish and, earlier, the collapse of the advanced Hohokam culture of Arizona. So we face — based on historical precedent — the likelihood of severe and prolonged drought.

Meanwhile, the United States is the third-fastest growing nation, behind China and India. Our 1 percent per annum growth rate represents doubling times of 60 years or less. Seventy percent of our growth is driven by immigration of upwards of 3 million people a year. How can any credible discussion of water dodge discussion of such dynamic forces unless we are simply so arrogant — or so in denial — as to believe that what happened to previous cultures simply cannot happen to our own?

Kathleene Parker
Rio Rancho, New Mexico